As competition from hedge funds, private equity and alternative investments heats up, mutual funds are beginning to shake off their apathy for sound corporate management and taking a more active role in oversight of the companies in which they invest. Their hope is to improve returns.

In the past, the only way a fund company has indicated to a firm that it didn’t agree with its principles was to take the “Wall Street walk,” or simply sell the stock. They left criticisms to shareholder activists, hedge funds and pension funds.

But recently, Morgan Stanley, Fidelity Investments, T. Rowe Price and OppenheimerFunds have opposed mergers and have worked to change corporate boards.

“It’s a totally different environment than it was just four or five years ago,” said Robert Profusek at Jones Day.

“We have a responsibility nowadays to be more activist if we feel management is doing something we don’t agree with,” said Allan J. Reich, a board member at Oakmark Funds.

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